Nervous Of Socialising? Be The Friend You Wish You Had Post-Pandemic

·8 min read

Friendship is many things. It’s companionship, solidarity, support and understanding. It is also, especially after the pandemic, a lot to do with organisation.

If you are someone who is particularly anxious or struggles socially, the amount of organisation that can go into even the smallest social events can be overwhelming. This is particularly true in the summer of 2021. We are, in simple terms, still out of practice when it comes to suggesting going to the pub, checking everyone’s availability, making sure everyone feels comfortable in a venue and hopping on public transport to get there.

It could be that this is something you have always struggled with, leaving it to others to rally the crowd and make fun things happen. Or you could be one of the many who has been affected by increased anxiety and loneliness over the course of the pandemic and have gotten out of the habit of communicating regularly with loved ones, even if you care about them. Flaking or just continuing to live the most introverted version of your life is a way to avoid the many anxieties that come from being proactive and social.

But coming out of lockdown is the opportunity to change that, if you choose to.

Being the organised friend is like being the friend you wish you had. Instead of feeling FOMO about the IG stories you’ve seen of people in the park, you can be organising your own fun. You get to be the friend who acknowledges how hard it is to flex our social muscles and make sure people feel included the way we all want to be. You get to set the pace of your social life so that it sits in harmony with your other responsibilities and needs.

Ahead we’ve identified some common pitfalls that can hold you back from being the active, organised person you want to be and asked experts for their best tips to overcome them.

Money worries

Anxiety around money is a major factor when it comes to being The Organised One. Managing your friends’ budgetary expectations with your own is a delicate balancing act and being frank about money can feel uncomfortable and transactional. And that’s to say nothing of how the pandemic has negatively affected many people’s incomes. These are common fears and can be managed with some planning and self-compassion, says Clare Seal, founder of The Financial Wellbeing Forum and My Frugal Year.

“I think the financial uncertainty caused by COVID – with people being worried about losing their job or having to self-isolate and lose out on pay – has made feeling anxious about money really understandable, so it’s important to take a little bit of time to unpack those feelings and show yourself some compassion. If it helps you to feel less anxious, planning and budgeting well ahead of time can mean that you feel a lot more in control, and things like train and event tickets can be a lot cheaper if you book early.”

She also emphasises the importance of ensuring you don’t foot the entire bill as chasing payments can be an additional financial burden that also puts strain on friendships. “Try creating a pot or PayPal account for everyone’s contribution ahead of time, and pay from that, to reduce unnecessary financial friction.”

Selina Flavius, founder of Black Girl Finance, adds that making regular space in your monthly budget for events and fun will allow you some flexibility when it comes to spending without any added anxiety.

“I’d also try and think about upcoming birthdays and events in advance and decide on whose/which event is an absolute must-attend/must-arrange, who will be understanding if you can’t make it or be involved. Also think about the other financial goals you have and be okay with saying ‘I would love to attend, arrange or be involved but the budget doesn’t allow it’.” Being honest around these subjects is intimidating but it’s the best route. We have all gone through 2020 and 2021 together – your loved ones should understand and genuinely respect your decisions.

Fear of rejection

Loneliness and alienation plague so many people in the UK and across the world. Just this month the campaigning think tank Onward published a study which found that the proportion of under-35s who say they have just one or no close friends has trebled in 10 years, from 7% to 22%, while the proportion of those with four or more has fallen from 64% to 40%.

When you feel disconnected from people and the world around you, reaching out to others, even if you have known them for years, can feel impossible. There is a fear that because you haven’t spoken for X period of time, they will reject you, either by deflecting or ignoring you altogether. But avoiding reaching out can only exacerbate that loneliness.

Given how the past 16 months have restricted and changed how we interact with friends, it’s not surprising to experience a fear of rejection around friendship and reaching out to people. But Dr Rachel M Allen, chartered counselling psychologist and author of How to Help Someone With Anxiety (out 5th August), says that avoiding reaching out will not help you.

“When we fear something, we often use avoidance as a way to try and keep ourselves safe. But ultimately, that can lead to us missing out. To develop a deep and genuine connection with another person, we have to be prepared to make ourselves vulnerable to an extent, by opening up and showing our true self. But if we can see having deep and genuine friendships as being worth that risk, then that can be a useful reminder that, while fear of rejection is real, the benefits of acceptance and connection make the risk worthwhile.”

All of which is to say – reach out! In ways that feel comfortable to you and, at first, run only a bit outside your comfort zone.

Managing social anxiety

Another major factor to manage is anxiety around socialising in general. But as Dr Allen reminds us, this anxiety is normal – especially right now.

“If you are feeling anxious about re-entering social scenarios, the first thing I would say is to remember that most of us are a bit out of practice with socialising right now. It is natural to feel a degree of anxiety when we have been living with restrictions for so long. So go easy on yourself.”

She adds that you can manage this by not throwing yourself headfirst into huge gatherings. “Secondly, I would say to work on slowly building tolerance to socialising again by gently easing yourself back in. So instead of starting with a big event, begin gently by maybe seeing one friend for a short period. You can gradually become more and more accustomed to being around people again, building up one step at a time.”

Plus, the fact that we can now gather indoors and access spaces for activities that aren’t centred on drinking and/or talking means that you can focus on the activity (visiting a museum! Watching a movie! Escape rooms!) instead of your anxieties about being around people again.

Overwhelmed by organisation

Finally, organising in and of itself can be incredibly stressful, especially when we set high standards for ourselves. Whether you’re organising a small gathering at home and struggling to find a date that works for everyone or you’re embarking on a big weekend trip with a group of friends and need to find an Airbnb, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make these events perfect. But as Neil Shah, chief de-stressing officer at the Stress Management Society tells R29, this hyper focus means we forget the most important aspect.

“Take Christmas, for example. We put ourselves under so much pressure to get everything right but a few weeks after Christmas, you’re not going to remember what you ate, or the presents, or the decorations – but you’ll remember how you felt. When planning an event, we should really focus on how people are going to remember this experience, not the food, what it looked like, and so on. Focus on ensuring that people have joy and happiness and laughter, which usually comes from the fact that we are together.”

It can feel like there is a lot of pressure for our gatherings to be life-changingly joyful to make up for the misery of 2020 and a lot of 2021. But you can flip that, too. The fact that we’ve been without human connection means that being together, in and of itself, is the most important and most joy-inducing thing you can bring to any event. And that can help lessen the pressure.

Whatever is left when it comes to organising can then be dealt with on a practical level. Breaking tasks down into smaller, more manageable tasks and just focusing on the absolutes (train tickets are a must, booking every restaurant for your trip away not so much) will lighten the mental load and allow you to actually look forward to whatever it is you’re organising.

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